Teaser Tuesday ~ Maralee Wofford ~ The Gold Bluff Deception
Maralee Lowder is a California girl through and through (she uses the word “girl” here euphemistically), although she and her family did live in Houston, TX for twelve years. Texas was a great experience, but she could never rid herself of the mystical pull of the rugged mountains of California. So, when their children began to wend their way back to their native state, she and her husband soon followed, finally settling down in Siskiyou County. California’s northernmost county.
She feels blessed to be living near California’s beautiful Mt. Shasta with her husband and their dog, Brian. It is an area that had its own gold strikes in the 1800s, and still has a few active gold mines. Between the history of local gold finds as well as a mountain often referred to as being spiritual, Ms. Lowder felt she was destined to write The Gold Bluff Deception, a fictional tale placed in a very special location.
Gold! What other word has been the cause of more intrigue, and downright mischief? The town of Gold Bluff seems to have all of those qualities and more. Unfortunately, honesty is not one of them.
When EDEN McKENNA, history buff extraordinaire is hired to teach English and history in the tiny town of Gold Bluff, she is ecstatic. After reading about the town in a prestigious travel magazine, she has been thinking of little else than visiting the historic city.
SAM GORTON wears many hats in Gold Bluff –realtor, mayor, head of the school board and one of the town’s developers.
Gold Bluff is a relatively newly developed city, however very few residents are aware of that small fact. The developers never intended to pass the city off as a true historical site. It was only after a night of too much celebrating during which they created a history for their little faux gold rush city that things began to get messy.
If those two old codgers, Old Tom and Uncle Billy, hadn’t passed the story on to the national magazine’s writer as actual fact everything would be fine. No story—no history—just a sweet little mountain town, reminiscent of times gone by.
But sparks being to fly, first between Eden and Sam, and then throughout the entire town. Will Gold Bluff survive its second gold rush?
If anyone happened to glance at the two old men who sat outside the Golf Bluff Mercantile, they could not have helped but notice the dual glimmers of mischief sparkling from their eyes. The mid-summer sun warmed their tired bones as they rested on the store’s weathered bench while watching the comings and goings of their neighbors.
The store’s screen door swung open, drawing two pairs of curious eyes.
“Hey, there, Sammy,” one of the two men greeted the man who had just left the store.
“Morning, Tom, Uncle Billy.”
“Morning, Sam. Did you hear about that rainbow trout I took out’a the river last week? A real record breaker, she was.”
“Humph! Some record,” his friend snorted. “That fish along with three others.”
“Sorry, fellas, I’d love to stay for the argument, but I’ve got a ten o’clock appointment to interview a teacher for the new high school. She ought to be here any minute now—wouldn’t want to keep her waiting
The two old men watched the tall, angular younger man amble across the road.
“That Sammy. I’ve always said he was about the nicest guy this town has to offer.”
“Yep, I always set quite a store by him myself.”
“Can’t figure out why he never got married.”
“Sammy, married? Now, why’d he want to go and do something stupid like that?”
Just as Tom found the perfect retort to his friend’s comment a well-traveled, four door sedan pulled up to the curb and parked. A bemused expression filled both of their eyes as they heard the car’s spring’s groan as an overly endowed woman climbed out of the driver’s seat.
Each man nodded to her in greeting as the woman climbed the three steps leading into the store. As the screened door closed behind her, they turned their attentions away from her and back to the empty street.
Eden’s gaze locked on the image in the mirror. The furrow between her brows deepened as she examined her reflection one feature at a time. There was nothing like a job interview to remind a person of their inadequacies. Knowing the impact of first impressions, she’d gone way beyond her usual grooming routine, hoping to strike the perfect balance between her usual casual look and the professional appearance she imagined her interviewer would be looking for.
She’d thought long and hard before applying eyeliner and mascara. She really didn’t like wearing all that goop on her face, but after grimacing at herself in the mirror, she’d decided the job interview called for the whole works, applying both with a light hand. The final touch was a russet hued lip-gloss, which brought out the deeper tones of her strawberry blond hair. That was it; she’d done just about all she could do.
Here she was dressed in an outfit she would never wear on the job, made up to look like someone she wasn’t. She’d do all the textbook interview stuff, sit prim and proper, smile with the correct amount of intensity, and answer all the interviewer’s questions with just the right amount of self-assurance. Did she dare show she had a sense of humor? Would it be considered an asset or a liability?
All this anxiety for a job she didn’t actually need. She had a perfectly good job, for pity’s sake. Even had tenure! Why go through all this? Because she wanted this job like she hadn’t wanted anything for a very long time—that was why.
A thrill of expectation washed over her as she lowered her gaze to the opened magazine she had placed on the vanity beside her makeup case. “Gold Bluff, California”, the title of the article read, “A City That Lives Its History.” The photographs accompanying the article said nearly as much as the text. Wooden sidewalks, a relic of a general store, a gold rush era cemetery, all told of a town frozen in time. It was a history buff’s dream come true…her dream come true.
Leaving the old men to their people watching, Sam glanced both ways before crossing the street. Not surprisingly, there were no vehicles coming from either direction. He had to smile at himself. What had he expected, gridlock? Having spent most of his life dealing with the everyday craziness of one city or another, his urban survival instincts were firmly entrenched.
He checked his watch as he stepped onto the wooden walk, noting that he still had a few minutes left before his appointment. The smile left his face as he thought about the ordeal he was soon to be put through. Damn, he hated interviews! No matter how many questions you asked, how in hell were you expected to know which person would be the best for the job? When you got right down to it, some people were good at interviews and lousy at the job, while others were terrible at interviews and wonderful employees. From where he sat, the whole process was nothing but a crap shoot. And he was the guy who had to run the game.
When Eden had first seen the article in Today’s American Scene she’d been hopelessly entranced. The writer described a town, founded in the wild days of California’s gold rush, still virtually intact. Set in the far northern part of the state, Gold Bluff had somehow managed to maintain its historical integrity yet still provide a lively, productive home for its residents.
Although she was intrigued by the article, several months had passed before she found the time to check the town out. When she’d first picked up the magazine the fall semester was just getting into full swing, a time too filled with lesson plans and paper grading to allow her to do the sort of research her curiosity demanded. Finally, during spring break, she’d gone on the web, hoping to find more information about this unique city.
The site was lovely, with photos echoing those she’d already seen in the Today’s American Scene magazine along with text describing the local businesses and community happenings. She tapped at the link to the Gold Bluff Chamber of Commerce, spending nearly an hour checking out various business establishments. Returning to the main page, her attention was drawn to a link titled “Gold Bluff Unified School District – Employment Opportunities.” Thinking, ‘why not?’ she clicked on it.
It wasn’t as if she was thinking of leaving her current job. She’d been teaching at the same high school in San Francisco ever since leaving college, and had no plans to leave. But still, it wouldn’t hurt to look, right?
Before turning off her computer she’d done far more than just look. From the moment the School District page opened she had been completely mesmerized. The high school was brand new and the School Board was in the process of accepting applications. A brand new school—away from the city—in an honest to goodness gold rush era town, could anything come closer to heaven?
She wondered what else beside the high school was modern about Gold Bluff. From the pictures she had seen of the city it appeared as if the town had not changed since the days of California’s famous gold rush. But, of course, that could hardly be possible. There must be some modern enterprises in or near the town. She just hoped there wouldn’t be enough to spoil the town’s charm.
Heart racing, she had filled out the online application, then sent it off into cyber space before stopping to wonder what she’d do if she was actually offered a position. Laughing at her uncharacteristically spontaneous action, she’d shut down the computer and put the whole incident out of her mind. She’d never hear back from them, so why worry?
But she had heard back. Phone calls had followed emails. An appointment had been made. And now here she was, staying in an honest-to-goodness boarding house, in an honest-to-goodness gold rush town, worrying about what to wear to an interview she had never believed would happen.
“Okay, kid, here you go!” she said as she closed the door to her room and descended the stairs. “Wish me luck, Mrs. Manning!” she called out to the boarding house’s proprietor as she strode through the main gathering room.
“Oh, I do, dear. But you won’t need luck from me. That job has your name written on it.”
Eden wished she had as much confidence in herself as Mrs. Manning apparently did. Taking a deep breath, she squared her shoulders and began the short walk to the head of the School Board’s office, leaving her car where she had parked it the previous night.
“Morning, Sara,” Bill Johnson greeted the middle aged woman as she walked up the steps of the store. “How are those two grandkids of yours?”
“They’re doing fine, Uncle Billy. And you?”
“Couldn’t be better.”
He waited until the door closed firmly behind the woman before turning to his companion.
“A couple of heathens, those two,” he said, his smile indicating that, in his opinion, being a heathen was a worthy accomplishment for a boy.
“Yeah, real wild Indians,” Tom agreed with a sage nod.
Silence settled between them as they continued their vigil of the town’s main street. A puff of warm, dry air swept down the street, past the two old men, pushing a swirl of dry leaves before it. The scent it carried promised that autumn would soon be upon the small mountain community.
The sound of a door opening and closing at Clara Manning’s boarding house style bed and breakfast a few doors down the street caught both men’s attention. They watched with interest as a young woman crossed the covered porch and stepped down the wide steps, then turned to walk in their direction.
“I bet that’s her, that school teacher Sammy’ll be interviewing. Kind’a small, but nice looking all the same.” Uncle Billy’s sky blue eyes lit up with interest as he tracked the young woman’s progress. He watched appreciatively as she walked toward them.
“Too short. I like ‘em leggier.” Old Tom observed. His dry voice matched his looks, tall and lanky with the weathered skin of a man who had spent most of his days out of doors.
“Leggier! What’s wrong with your eyes, old man? There’s not a damn thing wrong with that girl’s legs.”
“That about four or five more inches wouldn’t cure.”
“And that comment comes from a man who picked a gal not more’n five feet tall to marry more’n fifty years ago. Your tastes change since then?”
“Nope, always liked ‘em tall. Ella was just the exception, that’s all. I married her in spite of her being just a tiny thing, not because of it.”
“And I suppose you’d take points off for that girl’s strawberry blond hair, which in my opinion is as pretty a sight as you’re likely to see.”
“Gives her freckles. Never could abide freckles.”
“Freckles! Are you crazy, you doddering old fool? Why that young lady is …why, she’s…” For once words completely abandoned Billy.
“Go on, you were saying?” Tom goaded.
“Nothin’. I wasn’t saying nothin’,” Uncle Billy harrumphed as he leaned back against the wall of the Gold Bluff Mercantile.
“He won’t like her.”
“What? Now that’s just about the meanest thing you’ve said all day! What the heck’s not to like about that nice young lady?”
“Heard she was from Frisco. Who wants someone who’s been teaching those artsy fartsy kids down there?”
“Dang it! There you go again, saying the stupidest things just to get my goat!”
“Worked, didn’t it?” When Tom chuckled his weather beaten old face formed a myriad of laugh wrinkles.
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